What looked like a glimmer of hope for rural broadband advocates in the most recent Internet access numbers for Minnesota loses a little luster on inspection.
Connect Minnesota reported last month that 74 percent of Minnesota households have access to the Internet at the speeds the state urges in its 2015 goals for ubiquitous coverage. The organization reports that number every six months (it's been rising), and this was the first time it included any areas that are still without wired service at those speeds but have available mobile service like Verizon's or AT&T's that achieve them.
Those mobile services are reportedly fast enough in some places to meet the goal now, and 3 percent of the state's households fell into that category, Connect Minnesota said. (The numbers are based on providers' advertised speeds, which some people are skeptical about, but Connect Minnesota does field testing in an effort to verify.)
As Jack Geller quickly pointed out in a comment on my previous post, the appearance of mobile in the semi-annual report isn't enough to declare victory and go home. Caps on the amount of information a typical mobile user can transfer in a month make affordability a major concern. Can you call it sufficient access if you have to pay $200 a month to watch more than a couple movies? Besides, phones and tablets haven't made laptops and desktops obsolete yet for telecommuting, health care diagnostics, homework and the like.
But still, I was imagining that some retiree in the north woods or a farmer in southwestern Minnesota was finally getting an option that was, if not everything, at least something.
Not yet. Those 3 percent of households with no wired access but fast wireless access?
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Almost all of them are in the Twin Cities metro area.
I asked William Hoffman, state program director for Connect Minnesota, to tell me where those households are, and he said this:
There is . . . mobile-only coverage in the area of Apple Valley, Lakeville, Farmington in Dakota County, and Albertville and Saint Michael in Wright County. Interstate-wise, (there is mobile-only coverage) along I-35 through Dakota and part of Scott County and I-94 through some small parts in northwest Hennepin and east Wright County.
The big winner so far in this little sweepstakes appears to be Dakota County. If you don't count mobile access, two-thirds of the county's households have speeds the state is shooting for (at least 10 megabits per second download and 5 megabits per second upload). If you do count reported speeds for mobile access, virtually the whole county is covered.
The landscape will continue to change. For example, Andrew Sackreiter, head of AT&T's mobility services for this region, told a broadband conference in Roseville last week his company will cover the whole state with its LTE wireless service in a year, offering those state-goal speeds. So Connect Minnesota's reports will be interesting to watch next year.
But so far, the farmer and the lakefront retiree are still waiting.